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I originally wanted chickens and guineas for the bug control they offered when free ranged. Our property has to many trees to make a simple movable pen for them as well. The first year wasn’t a problem. By the time the chicks were old enough to let out of the pen, the plants were established enough they didn’t bother them.
The second year though….they tried to destroy everything planted. Now its not really the plants they were interested in, but the fresh dirt and bugs. But in the process, they would dig up and scatter any plant or seed in the area. Before I go into how to chicken proof your garden, lets talk a little on the messages the chickens get when it comes to gardens.
A chicken’s brain is quite simple. Dirt = Bugs = want to eat that. Fresh dug dirt = easy to find bugs. Mulch = delicious bugs. As far as fences go, you got to make sure it’s a hole free one, because a chicken sees dirt or fresh mulch behind a fence and thinks “she’s depriving me of the best food, and I must have it!”
Now that you understand the reasoning behind a chicken’s motives, how can you protect your plants, while still free ranging the chickens. A simple hoop of chicken wire over the plants won’t work. I tried that, they figured out they could sit on in, smash it down and still eat the greens under the wire. Hail fence or welded wire is stronger, and may work for a bit, but I never tried it.
For raised beds, putting an 18-inch-tall hail fence with 1x1 squares has done the trick. I didn’t even have to put a top on it for the seedlings. The raised beds are 12 inches off the ground plus the 18-inch hail fence. Why this keeps them out, I’m not sure as they will jump/fly 4 feet onto a barrel then over the 6-foot nursery pen fence. But it has been up for months, and no one has offered to try and get in the beds. 18 inches is also low enough you can still reach in and garden easily.
Electric fence is a method that surprised me. It’s not fail proof by any means, but does work for smaller areas you are trying to establish before letting everything run through. To electric fence for chicken (works for raccoons and dogs too) place one wire about 2 inches off the ground and the top wire about 12 inches off the ground. The problem with this is as soon as it is dead, they are all over it. And some still get smart and run through really fast.
PVC frames work ok, but I had a really hard time keeping them sturdy, in place, and the netting attached. If looks are something for you, they can be a bit of an eye sore.
The simple solution you would think would be chicken wire around the garden, but alas not so. I had a 4-foot chicken wire fence around my garden for several years before chickens for rabbits, and the chickens saw that as a simple exercise and jumped the fence or found holes in the bottom and slipped under. If you can support it doubled it could work, but the bottom doesn’t hold up to lawn mowers and weed eaters.
The best fence for a permanent area, is hail fence. The hail fence is stronger and build to last better than chicken wire. We chose 2x4 openings 4 foot high, doubled, with a top for our garden. Why the top? Because I also run guineas and have seen them easily perch on top of the swings right next to the garden. At this point I’m not taking chances and build a beautiful fortress.
Whatever method you decide to use, make sure you always shut the gate. They find an open gate in about 10 minutes from across the acreage.